Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Rev. Ebenezer Thayer's Pastorate, 1765-1792

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Candidates Marsh, Thayer, Scales and Belknap

After the dismission of Mr. Ward Cotton from the pastoral office which he had so long filled, the people did not readily unite in the choice of a successor. This resulted from several causes. Ever since the revival in 1742, there had been among the members of the church a disagreement on some points in theology. A considerable portion of them adhered to the doctrines held by their Puritan ancestors, while others were more lax in their sentiments. During the recent difficulties with their late pastor, there had also been a great difference of opinion, some using all their influence in removing him from his charge; others sympathizing with him, feeling that he should be judged more leniently on account of his mind being impaired by disease. The alienation thus occasioned, still remained, and made it more difficult to unite in the settlement of another pastor.

During Mr. Cotton's illness, seven or eight months before the close of his pastorate, the town hired Mr. John Marsh to preach for a time. That he was here at the beginning of 1766 appears from the town's vote "to continue Mr. Marsh to preach with us as a minister for the present."

Soon after, there was a movement on the part of Mr. Marsh's friends, to have him settled as pastor of the church. To this end more than thirty of the freeholders petitioned the selectmen to call a meeting to see if the town would give him a call to settle. It did not augur well for their success, that, about the same time, others of the freeholders, to the number of fifty, or more, signed a petition to the selectmen, for a meeting to see whether the town would employ one or more gentlemen to preach a few Sabbaths before calling any one to be settled, and also to have Mr. Marsh "stand probationer" till a choice should be made.

The selectmen called a meeting, to act upon the subjects named in both petitions. There is no record of any action whatever at the meeting on the question of giving Mr. Marsh a call to the pastoral office. Jonathan Moulton, Esq., Anthony Emery, Esq., Capt. Josiah Moulton, Dea. Samuel Dow and Christopher Toppan, Esq. were chosen a committee to ask advice of neighboring ministers, and then apply to two gentlemen of credit, whom they should recommend, to preach three or four Sabbaths each. It was then voted that Mr. John Marsh should "stand probationer for us" until the town come to a final choice of a man to settle here in the work of the ministry.

The committee employed Mr. Ebenezer Thayer and Mr. Stephen Scales, agreeably to the instruction given by the town. After hearing each of them three Sabbaths, the freeholders were called to decide whether an invitation to settle in the ministry should be given to any one of the three candidates, Messrs. Marsh, Thayer or Scales, and, if so, to which of them. It was voted to give Mr. Marsh a call, and the meeting was then adjourned two weeks.

At the adjourned meeting, it was voted to reconsider the vote passed at the last meeting for giving a call to Mr. Marsh. This result was brought about by a union of action between the friends of Mr. Thayer and those of Mr. Scales. It is also probable that some, who had at the former meeting voted in favor of Mr. Marsh, now voted for a reconsideration, that they might have further opportunity of hearing the preacher who had been with them on the last two Sabbaths. This was Mr. Jeremy Belknap -- afterward favorably known by his History of New Hampshire.

It was also voted to dismiss all three of the gentlemen named in the notification from "settling here for the present, considering our circumstances."

These men having been set aside, it was then voted, though not without opposition, to hire Mr. Belknap to preach two or three Sabbaths. At another meeting, two weeks later, it was voted to employ him two or three Sabbaths more. The vote in his favor was large, although thirty-four persons entered their dissent.

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